After four amazingly nice days in beautiful Inverness, visiting the famous Loch, Isle of Skye and eating plenty of delicious food, and drinking semi-plenty amounts of local whisky, it was time to hit the rails one last time.
LNER first class to Edinburgh
We had booked two first class tickets (£70 in total) for the three and a half hour trip to the Scottish capital, onboard the highspeed Azuma train of the LNER (London North Eastern Railroad), that continues all the way down to London, stopping at Edinburgh and a couple of other places along the way. This is of course also a way of doing London-Scotland by train, if you don’t want to catch the night train, as we did a few days prior to this trip.
We had a quite early departure at around 8 in the morning, and walked to Inverness Station from our nearby hotel, River Ness by Radisson, about 20 minutes before the train was due to leave. The station wasn’t really up and running yet, but it was open so as you could enter the waiting areas. The train was already at the platform, and about 10 minutes before boarding we were allowed to get on. A nice feature of booking with the LNER was the possibility to pick your prefered seats, ’airline style’ using a seating map of the train on their website. We chose a one-to-one facing seat pair as we’re asocial Scandinavians and don’t really want to make conversation with any strangers. 🙂
Shortly after departure, the onboard staff handed us menus for breakfast. Food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included in First Class tickets, and you could choose from a few different meal options. We went for the Full Scottish Breakfast, as well as a smashed avocado toast with a poached egg.
The food arrived quite quickly and came with coffee and orange juice. Quality was quite good to be honest, possibly slightly better than on the Caledonian Sleeper that we tried a few days earlier.
As the landscape passed by outside we enjoyed our breakfast with both the full Scottish’s sausage, hashbrown, bacon and eggs as well as the avocado toast’s creamy spread of avocado and eggs. Extra marks for the eggs being surprisingly well-cooked and delicious.
After breakfast we just relaxed watching the beautiful landscape changing into more cityesque as we approached Edinburgh’s Waverley station.
The trip and the train is really comfortable, and I wouldn’t at all have minded to stay onboard longer to for example continue on to London. But, it was time to get off the train for a final time for a few days of eating and drinking in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, before throwing in the towel and fly back home to Stockholm.
After four days of eating, drinking and walking our way through a surprisingly sunny London, it was once again time for the next part of the journey. And this time, it was for the first time of the trip on a night train, the night train that pretty much was the reason for the whole trip, as since I first saw a Youtube video of it I’d been wanting to go.
The train is called the Caledonian Sleeper and serves two routes: The Highlander route, that goes all the way to Fort William in Scotland, and the Lowlander route that goes to Glasgow or Edinburgh. It offers a sort of hotel experience onboard the train with nice bedding, pillow spray, a sink, bathroom and shower in the compartment (if in a Club Room), included breakfast and a nice dining car, or Club Car as they call it, where you can have both dinner (at a cost) and breakfast. There are also regular seats onboard, but that won’t get access to the Club Car, or any of the sleeping perks mentioned, of course.
We were on a Highlander that finished in Inverness, which was our final destination, and opted to book a Club Room, as the Caledonian Double, which as the name implies has an actual double bed in the compartment was a little bit too pricey for us, but we wanted to have our own bathroom.
Our train left from London’s Kingscross, as the usual Euston Station was closed for renovation when we travelled during Easter 2022. The departure time was in the evening, around 8.30 p.m. so we were quite tired after a day of walking around town when we arrived the lounge – included in club rooms – around 7. The lounge was maybe nothing to elaborate too much about, but was nice enough with tea, biscuits (of course, we were in the UK), crisps, sparkling water and decent seating as well as electrical outlets where you could charge your phone. There was also beer and wine available from the reception at a cost. Around 8.15 it was announced it was time to board the Caledonian Sleeper, and we walked straight to the platform through a little ‘private’ walkway.
We had to stand for a few minutes on the platform waiting for something before they let us onboard, but it wasn’t too long before we were in our small but cozy Club Room. The beds in the Club is bunk bed style and there is a toilet and shower combination in the bathroom. Floor space is quite tiny, but we managed fine with our two relatively large bags. Unfortunately (or actually not so unfortunately) we soon discovered that our toilet couldn’t flush. So we used the in-room intercom to call the staff to let them know. A staff member soon showed up and after some work, he concluded that our toilet was broken and we had to move.
The room offered to us as compensation for the inconvenience was the famous Caledonian Double which, without being huge, probably was twice the size of our Club Room, with a decently sized double bed, a painting on the wall as well as a nice amenity kit. It of course also had the in-room toilet and shower like our last room. Super nice and the first time ever I’d slept in a double bed on a train.
Happy with our fortune we went for dinner in the Club Car. The Club Car was decently busy (picture taken when boarding), but we found a nice table for two and were handed a menu each – it’s table service in the Club Car which felt extra luxurious. The food and drink offering onboard is heavily focused on local Scottish produce, which I loved. It really felt that we entered a tiny bit of Scotland just by getting on the train. Fun and adventurous. We ordered both the Scottish salmon with lemon sauce, as well as macaroni and cheese made with local Arran and Orkney cheddars, both were quite delicious considering it was on a train. We also ordered a whisky each from their quite (again, for a train) extensive whiskey menu, as well as a beer and a glass of wine. Price was around £45 for the two of us with drinks and food.
After this we went back to our Caledonian Double and tucked in for the night. Maybe having a glass of wine, and some crisps we accidentally brought with us from the lounge, while watching a dark United Kingdom pass by outside the window. Sleep quality wasn’t fantastic as the journey was a bit bumpy, but the bed was very comfortable so at least we managed to sleep for a few hours.
When getting on the train, the first thing we did was so select what kind of breakfast we wanted, there were a few options; larger and small; healthier and unhealthier, as well as if we wanted to eat breakfast in the Club Car or in our compartment. We went for the Highland breakfast, meaning a full Scottish breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans and black pudding, as well as the Eggs Royale and chose to have it in the Club Car.
The breakfast, as mentioned included in the price, came with additionnal coffee and orange juice, and an amazing vista over The Scottish Highlands, as we approached Inverness. The views just before arriving Inverness was really beautiful, so we were lucky with the timing of our breakfast. Breakfast food quality was decent, better than you would get on a plane, but less good than in a restaurant.
Shortly after we finished our breakfast, it was announced that we approached Inverness, 30 minutes ahead of schedule (boo). As it was the final stop, we didn’t have to hurry to get off, but it felt weird to just sit around, so we got off pretty much upon arriving. Inverness has a small Caledonian Sleeper lounge just next to the station building, and we managed to get there exactly as the manager started his shift. We were early, so he got a little surprised we had already arrived, but quickly invited us in and offered us coffee and a nice little chat about Scotland, and gave us some recommendations for how to spend our next few days. There was a also a small but decent snack assortment, much like in the London lounge, of biscuits, crisps, soft drinks and water.
From the lounge it was just a short walk, Inverness is not a big city, to our very good hotel The River Ness hotel by Radisson where we based ourselves for the next four days, before the final train of the Stockholm-Scotland by train trip.
As we lived super close to Hamburg’s central railway station, we checked out around 30 minutes before our departure and took the quick walk there to find our first train of the day.
Unfortunately there aren’t any direct trains from Hamburg to Amsterdam, so our first trip of the day was with the sleek German highspeed ICE (Intercity Express) train, that reaches speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, from Hamburg to Osnabrück in Western Germany.
The station in Hamburg was PACKED, but inside the train, we chose to go in first class, it was quite empty. This first leg of the Hamburg to Amsterdam trip was quite short, and since we couldn’t find any information of whether there was an onboard restaurant on the next train we where taking, our priority was food, as we wanted to try German train food.
In ICE’s first class you get food and drinks served at your seat, if you prefer, but it’s not included in the fare, so you still have to pay for it. We had relatively recently had breakfast, so we decided to share a German currywurst with fries, as well as a fassbier (draft beer) each, because draft beer on a train! Unfortunately they had run out of fries and offered us bread instead. Oh well. 40 minutes or so before us getting off the train, the food arrived. I think the quality was quite good to be honest, tasty, hearty and decently priced.
After lunch it didn’t take long before we arrived Osnabrück, where we had a 15 minute wait before our Intercity train to Amsterdam was to depart. The station was quite small and it was easy to find our way and walk to the platform.
After a short delay, the train arrived and we hopped on the super busy train. Once again we were in first class, but gone was the calm, the plush leather seated ”couple seats” and table service, and instead we joined a group of people in a 6-person compartment, where two (very friendly) ladies had our seats. Just like in the Danish train you could travel without a seat reservation, which also on this train led to sort of chaos. After a few minutes of moving bags and people around, we were fortunately seated however, and the trip to Amsterdam could commence.
As the train approached Amsterdam, it was approximately 3,5 hours from Osnabrück, the train got less and less busy. As in Denmark, as fast as the train staff announced that we had entered The Netherlands, everyone removed their masks, as they had just removed most Covid-related restrictions there. To celebrate the border crossing, we headed to the onboard restaurant and, to our sort of sadness, found it identical to the one on the ICE train, meaning we could’ve had our lunch here on this slow train, instead of rushing it earlier on the ICE. Oh well, we had a glass of German bubbly each which we sipped on watching the Dutch countryside go by outside the window.
Then, a canal or two appeared outside our window, then another, then a tall building, and a futuristic museum. And a couple of skyscrapers. We were finally in Amsterdam, after our five our trip through Germany, and this time we were actually stopping for a while for some eating, drinking and exploring. *Speaker voice*: “More on this in the next episode of Train to Scotland”. Tot ziens!
After a quick walk from our hotel to Copenhagen’s railway station, we reached our platform where the next train was due to leave for Hamburg. We had booked DSB (Danish Railway) 1’, which is their first class, via Deutsche Bahn’s website, and because of that we couldn’t choose our seats beforehand. I’m not sure that you can if you book directly through DSB, but I would guess so. Anyway, we were lucky and got a 1 to 1 pair, eg. facing each other with a table between us and no one sitting next to us. Not so lucky were all the passengers boarding the train with ”open” first class tickets, as the train was fully booked. On SJ you need to have a seat when you board the high-speed trains, but apparently not on the Danish trains. This caused a trip-lasting chaos with the non-reserved passengers jumping back and forth around the carriage, alternating between for the moment empty-seats, and sitting on the floor. Must have been quite stressful for them.
Apart from that, the seats were comfortable, there’s a self service bar with coffee and sweets, and the views were at times stunning. Last time we went we used the now terminated train ferry, but I’d say this train was more comfortable as you did not have to get on and off, and could just relax in your seat for the entire trip.
Just before we entered Germany there was an announcement that face masks are still mandatory in Germany due to the Corona pandemic, so the totally maskless carriage suddenly masked up as we crossed the border which was a little bit funny.
The trip lasted about four hours, and we rolled into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof railway station with no delays. The station is quite big, but we found our way and walked to our nearby hotel, Intercity Hauptbahnhof in a few minutes. The hotel was nice, and had what you would expect in terms of a nice bed, a tv and a decent bathroom. But mostly it’s convenient if you’re using the train station, if I’d stay longer in Hamburg, I’d stay in a nicer area. After settling in, we took a walk to the nearby Poggenmühlenbrücke (say that fast 10 times), with its famous canal view.
On the way back from the canal we picked up kebab from a place called Salli’s Döner. It was pretty good, although not fantastic. Tasty meat, decent bread, okay fries and good sauces. It costed us something like €20 which included two beers each to go. We finished our kebab and beers in our hotel room, and then went to bed.
We had no breakfast included in our room, so next morning we took a walk to a small coffee place we’d seen the day before when walking to the bridge-with-the-long-name. The place was called The Bakery and was also very close to the kebab kiosk where we bought dinner the day before. The coffee was really good and we also had a yoghurt with mandarins and ’homemade’ granola that was delicious.
I’ve been wanting to visit Bulgaria for quite some time, and after some decently thorough research, I found the Melia Varna maybe a year ago, and started looking into when to go. Fortunately prices were quite good in early June this year, and we decided to book the trip.
The hotel is all inclusive, and on top of that there is an extra fancy all inclusive concept that is called The Level, which we opted for since it wasn’t that much more expensive.
The Level comes with room category, and the rooms are larger, has more amenities like free minibar (beer, snacks, water and soft drinks which are replenished daily), robes and slippers, a welcome amenity and a couple of chocolates on arrival. Our room was on the 8th floor, but I’m not sure that all Level rooms are high up in the hotel. You also get access to a private restaurant which serves both breakfast, lunch and dinner; as well as a Level pool area and garden which is less busy and noisy than the main hotel pool. It also has it’s own bar.
Because our tour company, Swedish Vingresor, cancelled our first trip, we had to rebook to a week where the sea facing room we had initially booked was already sold out. So instead we booked a Level ‘park view’ room, which meant a view of the hotel’s entrance and the surrounding hills. This was definitely not a bad view, but the ocean vistas are definitely nicer and since the price was just a little bit more I’d book an ocean facing sea view room next time.
We flew from Stockholm Arlanda airport to Varna airport, a trip that is perhaps shorter than most people expect, with a flight time that is only 2 hours and 45 minutes. After picking up our bags we took a pre-arranged bus to the hotel where we arrived around 10 pm or 22:00 o’clock. The Level has it’s own reception area, but it was closed due to the late hour, and we used the regular reception to check in. We were handed, or rather they put on, our all inclusive wristbands, and we also got a sandwich pack since all the restaurants had closed. A top tip at check in is also to make sure that you receive towel cards. They forgot to give us ours, which took us on a 30 minute hunt the following day trying to find out just how to get pool towels.
Level park view room
The room was quite large and as mentioned earlier had a minibar where soft drinks and beer was free of charge. The bed was large and quite comfortable, there’s a flat screen tv, air-con which worked very well, wifi, and a large bathroom with both rainhead shower and a bathtub.
Restaurants in the hotel
There are quite a number of bars and restaurants at Melia Varna if you read on their website, but a few of them aren’t open that long – there is a German bierstube with German beers and dishes, but they close early, I think it was 5 o’clock so we never tried it. There’s also a paella restaurant, but it wasn’t open at all when we visited. This gives you two options as a non-Level guest, and three options when staying in a Level room for dinner: their main buffet restaurant, their Italian restaurant (also buffet), and the Level restaurant, which also is a buffet. Hence, no other choice than buffets are available and as far as I could tell, the food on offer was quite similar in the main buffet and the Level buffet. Although we heard from others guests that the main buffet ran out of food and was quite chaotic, and that did not happen to the Level restaurant during our visit.
The Level restaurant
There is no need to make any reservations and you just show up when you like to eat. The staff were generally quick to offer you drinks, and there were usually glasses of sparkling wine already poured and ready for you to pick up when arriving the restaurant. When it comes to wine, you select red, white, rosé or sparkling. There’s never a bottle, and you don’t have any say in brand or grape for instance. The wines were in our minds generally fine though and worked with the food. But this is not a place for fine wines (or fine dining).
The food is quite decent, and I appreciated that there was lots of Bulgarian food. During our week we tried both Black Sea mussels in dill, grilled kebapche – minced pork skewers with cumin – although I suspect these weren’t made in the hotel, and various grilled meats, as well as salads with sirene cheese. They also had made a dill, mayo, yoghurt, and garlic sauce, I guess based on the Bulgarian Tarrator soup, which was really good paired with their local dishes. There were also bread, fries, rice, charcuterie, vegetables of varioús kinds and desserts. Some of the desserts were of a much higher standard than the food, so I’m guessing there’s a very talented pastry chef hidden somewhere in the hotel.
The Italian restaurant
The hotel’s Italian restaurant is open to all guests, but requires a reservation. When we visited it was only open on certain days. We booked through reception a few days before, and got handed a small ticket that we brought with us to the restaurant. The food is served buffet style, but the main event is pizza that comes pizza for pizza from the kitchen. So they run out quite fast, but are never cold, and get replenished quickly. The pizza was decent, as was the rest of the food. Apart from pizza there were a few pasta dishes, salads such as tomato and mozzarella, Italian charcuterie and cheeses, and a few desserts.
The pool and the beach
As mentioned there’s a private pool garden for Level guests. It’s not very hidden or hard to reach, you just walk down a set of stairs from the main pool area. But since the main pool area is quite busy and there’s a lot of sports and events going on all day, I found it quite nice as it is much quieter and relaxed. There is a small bar, and the staff occassionally comes out and pick up orders or hand out little treats such as ice cream. The pool is smallish, but since it’s a lot less guests using it, it was usually more accessible than the large main pool that was constantly packed with people, rubber toys, and volleyball nets.
From the hotel, there’s a short walk down a slope to the private hotel beach. It’s not very hard to find, but can be a little bit tricky. Fortunately there’s a sign from the main road to “Melia Beach”, just walk in there and you’ll find it. There’s no separate area for Level guests here, you just walk in and pick any sun lounger that’s available. There was usually available sun loungers as the hotel part of the beach is relatively large, but at one time it was completely full and we had to give up and walk back to the hotel. There is also a beach bar which is included in all inclusive which serves drinks and ice cream. In my mind the hotel beach was one of the best aspects of the hotel, very clean, good facilities and super pretty.
The Level Lounge
The last one of the perks for Level guests is the Level Lounge on the top floor of the hotel. It’s a quite small lounge with a concierge and a bar tender that serves cocktails and afternoon tea from 3-5 pm, or 15-17:00. Again, odd hours and I can’t understand why they don’t offer this between let’s say 5-7 p.m. instead. We usually arrived 4.30 p.m. for a quick (and very early drink) before dinner. Because this was the only bar that you could sit outside without having to enjoy it in paper cups. There is also a quite spectacular view over the beach, ocean and area. And in contrast to the bars and restaurants below, they use “premium” spirits instead of local ones. They have a set menu of a few classic cocktails, wines and beers. But they made anything you’d like if they had the ingredients. I for instance guided the bartender to make me a negroni that wasn’t on the list, but they had campari, gin and vermouth.
After two years of covid restrictions, cancelled trips and spending almost all of our time at home, we decided to try out how it was to travel in a changed world.
We decided that we wanted to stay in the EU for our first post-covid trip, and decided that Spain, and more precisely Tenerife, offered the weather, the travel rules (only covid passport when we went) and also the direct flights we were after.
Stocholm Arlanda – Tenerife South with Sunclass Airlines
Tour operator Ving’s airline Thomas Cook Nordics has changed their name to Sunclass Airlines (but why?!), but except for the new name I didn’t notice any difference. We booked their premium class onboard their A330, which to the Canary Islands just came with an extra 700 SEK price tag, for a 5 hour return flight! Super deal. When booking premium class you’ll get around 15 cm extra legroom, free checked in luggage, free headphones and a free meal. Not sure what these cost in regular class, but those 700 extra is probably just 3-400 extra after add-ons. We also decided to splurge and upgrade to their premium meal for the return leg for 195 SEK each, but that includes a drink which is ~70 SEK if you select wine. The meal which consisted of salmon mousse and smoked salmon, beef fillet with potato gratin, cheese and a tarte, was decent, but like many airplane meals, the meat had been cooked too long and was super dry. Last time I ordered the premium meal, on my way to Gambia, it was much better.
Entering Spain with our health control forms and Covid rules
After our flight had landed we showed our Health Control Forms that we had filled in online before the trip, these are currently mandatory for entering spain when travelling from a country at risk, but was quite easy (and free) to complete. We had printed our forms and just showed the QR-code which was then manually scanned.
While we visited in December 2021 there was an indoor mask mandate, meaning you’ll have your mask on basically everywhere when you have passed a doorway, doesn’t matter if the area has a roof or not. Shopping malls, inside the hotel, even in the outside pool area you wore a mask if moving around. Only time you took it off was when you sat down in a restaurant or on your sun lounger, or went for a swim. Apart from (almost) always wearing a mask the atmosphere was very relaxed, all stores, bars and restaurants seemed to be open and people both behaved and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Vacation time at the Guayarmina Princess in a Platinum room
When staying in a platinum room you have a separate check in desk that also works as concierge. It took a little time to go through all details, but you got a glass of complimentary cava (or orange juice) while waiting, which was nice.
Junior suite with side sea view
We didn’t really care for size of the room, but wanted the Platinum perks which starts from junior suite, and since the price was almost the same for a ”side sea view” junior suite compared to one without a view, we decided to go for that room category.
The room was quite cool with a free standing bath tub in the middle of it, almost next to the bed. The minibar was stocked with both beer, white and sparkling wine as well as soft drinks, and the first round was free when in a platinum room. The room was situated next to a slope, so despite being on the fourth floor people walking by outside were quite close. The sea view was angled but quite good and we could see both the ocean and the neighbouring island of La Gomera from our balcony. We did not spend a lot of time there however as views are everywhere in the hotel.
Cocktail hour with sunset and volcano eruption views (at least in December 2021)
One of the nicest perks with Guayarmina Princess’ platinum concept is the daily cocktail hour between 17 and 18 o’clock (5-6 p.m.). it is pretty much what it sounds like, each day you’ll be served a couple of different drinks (as many as you like) and snacks for an hour. There was beer, soft drinks, rosé, red, two kinds of white wine and bubbles the days we went. The snacks were usually olives, something deep-fried like croquettas, and small canapes with for instance tuna. The cocktail hour is held adjacent to the platinum restaurant which has a terrace with amazing view over the ocean, La Gomera, and the sunset. In December the sun went down a few minutes past six, so each day offered a great sunset paired with your drinks. And we got to see the last puff of the volcano eruption on La Palma while sipping on our drinks on one of our first nights, but probably not something to expect for the next 100 years or so.
Due to covid, Guayarmina Princess’ Restaurants are booked by a super convenient new service, they call it an app, on their website. You log in, pick a time slot and then you have your allocated time. This works (and is mandatory) for breakfast, dinner and the pool chairs. Me being a planner, and someone that also gets stressed by the constant ”hope it’s not too busy at breakfast” and ”hope we’ll be able to get a sun lounger before other guests claims all of them with their towels”, thought this was amazing. You could sleep until late breakfast at 10, then after finishing you’d go back to the room, relax for an hour and then rock up by the pool and your reserved lounger at noon. Like a holiday always should’ve been. Great concept indeed.
Restaurants in Guayarmina Princess (with platinum full board)
When we booked our stay, our plan was not to eat that much in the hotel. But the price for what we thought was daily buffet was about €10 each, so we thought we’ll book that and then we use it to eat in on some nights and go out on some. When we arrived however, we were told that we as Platinum guests could choose any restaurant we want when on half board. Meaning we could opt for full a la carte meals in both the Roast steak restaurant and the semi-fancy Platinum restaurant as many nights as we’d like.
The buffet ”Food market”
You can have both breakfast, lunch and dinner at Food Market, and while we only tried breakfast and dinner, I’m sure their lunch is good too. I’ve had quite a number of buffets in my life, eating the smörgåsbord on the ’Finland ferries’ from Stockholm to Helsinki crossing the Baltic Sea to visit relatives, more times than I can remember.
Despite not being a huge buffet fan, I can happily say that Food Market is really good. Maybe not ”a gastronomic dream for true foodies” as their website discretely states, but still very good for a hotel buffet. The selection is huge, the quality is of quite a high standard, food is replenished often, and there are several stations where they make a la carte stuff as you order it. Also extra marks for local Canarian dishes such as rabbit, the classic wrinkly papas arrugadas salt boiled potatoes with delicious mojo sauces and fresh sea food. It’s also nice that you can sit outside which makes the experience a little less busy. It’s not super tranquil inside.
Breakfast is also good and of the same quality. The amount of choice is borderline spectacular, and they have (nice) oddities like fries, which one headachy morning (damn you Café Steps dry martini) gave me the opportunity to make a BLT breakfast sandwich with a side of fries. There are two egg cooking stations for freshly made eggs and omelettes, there’s churros and a nutella pump, good bread, yoghurt, fresh fruit, and lots of other stuff.
One night we decided to visit The Roast, the hotel’s ’modern’ take on a steakhouse. They have a semi-a la carte concept at The Roast, where starters and dessert are served at a buffet but mains are ordered a la carte. We tried a few starters which featured items for making your own salad, a bit surprisingly sushi (not great, but not terrible) and a few others. The roast also differs a little bit from the other restaurants as they have a couple of dishes that, like the other restaurants, are included, but they also have a few premium cuts that comes with an additional fee. We were a little bit tempted to try, but being cheapskates we went for the included-in-half board mixed grill instead, which featured a quite generous plate of grilled meats and sausages; pork, chicken, entrecôte/rib-eye, chorizo, morcilla blood sausage as well as a few fried pimientos de padrón. This came with chips, and we picked up a couple of sauces from the buffet since we like sauce. We really like sauce. Desserts? Can’t honestly remember, but they were probably alright.
The Platinum Restaurant
Like Food Market buffet restaurant, the Platinum restaurant serves both breakfast and dinner, both inside and outside on the amazing cocktail hour-terrace, mentioned earlier. Bookings for dinner are open from 6.30 by the way, so if you get a last order of drinks a few minutes before six, you might be able to stick around until dinner time if you ask nicely.
The breakfast includes a small buffet with slightly fancier ingredients and items than in the ordinary buffet, such as freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, and on some days sparkling wine. The selection is much, much smaller though if that is important to you. The main difference however is that you also can order a la carte breakfast dishes, as many as you like. We usually went for their delicious pan tomate; Spanish bread fried in olive oil topped with grated tomatoes and a slice of serrano ham. There is also a fresh fruit platter, full English breakfast since many (most?) of the guests are from the UK, Spanish tortilla omelette, eggs to your choice, pancakes, and a few other dishes.
Dinner is, as mentioned, served from 6.30 and is a la carte except for starter which, like at The Roast is served at the buffet. The Platinum restaurants starter buffet is much nicer than in The Roast though, some nights there was all you could eat shrimps and langoustines and while I still would’ve prefered starters a la carte too, the quality was very good and you always found something you liked.
There was about six or seven main courses to choose from each day, and on top of that they also had a few extras such as a daily pasta and special meat dish. The quality is not amazing, but good. Think cruise ship. Our favourite of our three visits was the Iberian pork. Super juicy grilled fillet with red wine sauce and roasted potatoes, that we changed to fries since we are heathens. As in Roast restaurant you are free to complement your main course with items from the buffet, we could, for instance, not have enough of their mojo sauces, and the aioli was decent too.
Like the mains, there was a decent selection of different ones to choose from. The quality was, again like the mains, quite good, and we particularly liked their homemade flan with cream. There is a Nespresso coffee machine which you can use (whenever during the day, but also at dinner) if you’d like coffee with your dessert. There is also cheese, crackers and jam in the buffet if you want something less sweet to finish. Or both, as our waiter advised us.
The Platinum swimming pool
The last one of the perks, and booked through the Guayarmina Princess web app, is the amazing Platinum pool. Amazing in terms of views, mostly, as the pool itself, while heated and pretty is quite small. The area around the pool with the bar and the incredibly views over the Atlantic Ocean and La Gomera is spectacular. A top tip is to check the numbers on the sun loungers your first day to see which one you prefer. You can only reserve chairs for one day at a time though. We usually picked one by the pool, but there are also cabanas/day beds that looked really nice. If you get thirsty there’s a bar and there are also bathrooms at the end of the area, away from the bar, close to the stairs/fire escape.
Just got back from a trip to surprisingly great Ukraine a few days ago. Before I go into details about the food, low prices and pretty buildings of Kiev though, I will tell you about a side trip we took during our visit, to the currently “in the news”-destination of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
I must admit I had no clue that an HBO series about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster was in the making when booking this trip last fall. Born in Sweden in the 80s however, I’ve always been told about the disaster; when we visited the North of Sweden when I was a child, I was told to not eat and pick berries for instance, as radioactive clouds from the disaster swept over the Baltics and Scandinavia delivering poisonous rain.
So I was quite aware of the Nuclear disaster of 1986 already before the series aired, almost perfectly timed about three weeks before our departure. What the series told me however, was how close it was to an even larger disaster, possibly making life impossible for thousands of years in large parts of Europe.
But, can you actually visit? What about radiation?
We where a little apprehensive too, but according to our tour company that has made the tour for quite sometime, the radiation dose that you receive for the full day equals approximately to what you receive in an airplane for a 2 hour flight (because you’re closer to the sun than on Earth). Not very much that is, most people get more on the flight to Kiev.
Booking the tour
We opted to go with Chernobyl Tours (www.chernobyl-tour.com), a tour company we found through Tripadvisor with high ratings. The tour was $99 per person with extras like a Geiger counter at $10 (don’t skip this), lunch in the Chernobyl worker’s canteen at $5 (not in any way delicious, but an experience) – you can also bring your own food and eat it in the same place which might be an idea if you’re picky. We also included pick ups from our hotel at $13 per way which was super expensive compared to Kiev taxi prices, but also very convenient as our driver picked us up very early at 7.15 am from our hotel and returned us back as we arrived late at approximately 9.30 pm and did not need any directions.
Payment of the 25% reservation fee was through Paypal, so not as convenient as just putting in your card details, but not that bad either. Then we got good e-mail updates about the tour and the remaining balance that we paid in cash (Euros, USD or Ukrainian Hryvnia) onboard the bus before departing Kiev.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
We left Kiev in a bus with about 40 other people at 8 a.m. after having our passports thouroughly checked. After an approximate two hour ride where the guides told us about the incident, safety in the zone (except for pockets of radiation there is also wild animals due to lack of people), and showed us a quite good documentary about the incident we reached the border control of the 30 km exclusion zone. Here they had a few (not so nice) bathrooms and a few kiosks where you could buy snacks, drinks and souvenirs. We were supposed to be there for fifteen minutes, but it ended up being about 80 minutes due to being just a few police officers there to inspect our and other bus tour’s passports.
Our first stop in the outer exclusion zone: an abandoned village.
The Duga-1 radar, 150 meters tall, was a Soviet radar supposed to be able to see over the horizon and thus being able to spot a US Nuclear strike in time to be able to retaliate.
Another abandoned village, this in the 10 kilometer exclusion zone where you once again had to show your passport.
Then it was time to head to the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant itself. First up was this not-so-exciting but still edible tray of pasta with a “cheeseburger”; soup; salad; bread, and a glass of juice had in the Chernobyl PP canteen where the workers used to – and still are – having thelr meals in.
After lunch we headed for the power plant itself. I had not really understood that you even can come close to the damaged reactor 4, let alone getting out at its entrance just a few hundred meters away. I thought we’d see it in the distance from a hill or something. But no. We were next to it, a little bit scary, but also very interesting as I’ve heard about Chernobyl all my life, and here I was. Our guides told us about the new Steel Sarcophagus, finished in 2017, which is meant to last for 100 years and has lead to lower radiation in the area. People has also worked at the power plant, as I understood it pretty much since the accident. At the moment workers in the area work two weeks in the zone, and then they need to stay out of it for another two weeks before going back.
After ChnPP as the guides called the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant we were taken to one of the last, and in my mind, most interesting “sights” of the day: the abandoned ‘ghost town’ of Pripyat. If you’ve seen the HBO series, this is where all the people live. It’s only about 3 kilometers from ChnPP and today it is completely deserted, taken over by the forest.
The famous Ferris wheel of Pripyat, in one of the pods we had the highest reading of radiation during the day. 280 Microsieverts inside of it, compared to about 0,5 standing just a meter beside it. Scary.
Stray dog hanging around old bumper cars in the same would-be amusement park (supposed to open May 1st – disaster happened April 26).
Soviet era buildings anno 1986.
Then after a last stop in Chernobyl town where we got to see some of the robots used to clear the reactor roof (which was however mostly done by ‘bio robots’ eg. humans), and the monument of the first responders, many killed in the accident, we left for Kiev again. To leave the area though, we had to go through two radiation controls to see that we did not bring any radioactive dust or similar to the outside world.
One Michelin-starred Barrafina on Dean Street a stone’s throw from Piccadilly Circus delivered some of the best tapas I’ve had.
Cold meat platter. Everything extremely good.
Ham croquetas. Crunchy, delicious and perfect.
Best pan con tomate I’ve had.
A runny, perfect tortilla with peppers and prawns.
Morcilla; spiced Spanish blood sausage (similar to black pudding) with fried quail eggs, a crispy wafer thingy and a rich sauce.
Location: Dean Street, Soho.
Price: £80 for the above (and some more), including a glass of wine each.
Eve Bar (hidden in Frog restaurant’s basement)
It was nearly impossible to take decent pictures, but a staircase down from fancy restaurant Frog (by Adam Handling) is Eve bar. Get it, Adam and Eve?
Clever naming aside, Eve Bar was really my cup of cocktail with great cocktails, ambience, service and decent prices.
Location: Covent Garden.
Price: About £13 for a cocktail.
The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel
A 40 minute wait, £25 cocktails and lots of tourists. Could that be good? I’d say so! Friendly service, live piano music, free snacks and a hard-to-beat ‘old world’ atmosphere. As an extra bonus you’ll get access to their small museum, and can also sneak around the grand lobby (above) of The Savoy Hotel which The American Bar is a part of.
Location: Covent Garden(ish)
Breakfast at Eggbreak
For our last meal for this time we went to Eggbreak in Notting Hill, after I read about their crab cake eggs benedict.
The coffee, a flat white, was, as the youth of today (I think as I’m old-ish) would call it: on point.
The star of the show: perfectly poached eggs on top of equally perfect crispy, delicious crab cakes. A few healthy spoons of sriracha-hollandaise sauce and some chives finished the decadent masterpiece.
Price: £45 for three coffees, two mains, a grilled grapefruit (also delicious) and a pain au chocolat.
(Sorry about the blurry picture, Northern lights were much harder to photograph than I had anticipated. But what an experience!)
Anyways, last weekend we took the SJ Nattåg 94, also known as the Arctic Circle Train, from Stockholm’s Central Station to Abisko in the far north of Sweden to hopefully see some Northern lights (or Aurora Borealis).
We had booked a private 2nd class compartment onboard the train for the 17 hour trip from Stockholm to Abisko turiststation, a mountain station hotel located pretty much in the Lapland wilderness – that has its own train station. Very convenient.
The compartment onboard the train was quite tiny and a bit worn, but sufficient, private (key card access doors), clean and once settled in actually quite cozy.
While the compartment is small in length, you have a fair bit of height to use as can be seen on the top bunk shot above. The standard setting is three passengers per cabin/compartment, but for roughly 400 SEK (~50 usd) you can pay for the compartment to be totally private, which we did.
Since they do not have a restaurant onboard, we opted to buy our own stuff to eat onboard. They do have a bistro carriage though with sandwiches, beer, wine, snacks and so on however.
But we instead went to Urban Deli, a fancy Stockholm supermarket/deli/bar/restaurant and bought take-away stuff from there. Particularly compartment-made sourdough baguette canapées with Urban Deli’s Skagen shrimp salad was deeelicious. We also had steak tartare, truffle chips, charcuterie and cheese, to be on the safe side. And we might, or might not have brought a bottle of wine onboard.
STF Abisko Turiststation mountain station
Our main reason to visit Abisko was to see Northern lights, or Aurora Borealis. According to my research and themselves, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to watch it. We checked into one of the hotel rooms in Abisko turiststation (they have dorm style accomodation too) which was small, clean and quite nice. There was no TV, but the wifi worked relatively well if you by some reason get tired of watching mountains.
Public spaces are very nice, with for instance several fire places where you can relax after hiking/walking around the stunning surroundings. They also have a small convenience store and the lobby sell beer and wine. Views are great and everywhere.
We also had a delicious dinner at the famous on premise-restaurant Restaurang Kungsleden that has been awarded by Swedish food guide The White Guide. I won’t dive into details but we had their 440 sek three course dinner: Västerbottens cheese pie, wild boar steak with root veggies and juniper gravy as well as soft gingerbread cake with vanilla ice cream and blueberries. Menu changes each night. The food was nice, not spectacular, but given the location definitely above average. Also good wines and friendly service.
We also had breakfast in the same place which was included in our visit and very good quality. Home baked breads, butter, cheese, salami, vegetables, local stuff like cloudberry butter milk, eggs, bacon and stuff like that. Not a huge assortment, but well made.
Aurora Sky Station (we thought)
As mentioned, our plan was to spot Northern lights. To be extra sure since we only stayed for one night, we booked the Aurora Sky Station mountain top viewing point which at 700 sek a head is indeed pricey. We knew it was a calculated risk as it may close due to unforeseen events, but their website stated it was open 90% of all nights. Unfortunately we were there on a 10% night and the station was closed due to winds. Instead of a refund they made a “plan B-programme” with a guide taking us on a short walk, then giving us a 1980s presentation (the material – the guide was good and tried his best) and finally we sat in a house next to the hotel around a fire and had some coffee and local delicacies. Not remotely close to being worth 1400 sek for two.
However, fortunately, the Northern lights decided to show up and we got a magnificent show of pretty much the entire sky being filled with dancing, moving Northern lights for a good hour (best pic at the start of this post). So all ended well.
Arctic Circle Train Abisko-Narvik (in Norway)
24 hours after getting off the Arctic Circle Train, we jumped back on for the last leg, from Abisko to the Norwegian city of Narvik. The reason for taking the final hours of this trip was that it was supposed to be one of the prettiest train trips in the world, and that we cheated and flew home from Narvik as we had to work the next day.
The train trip was really spectacular, especially after crossing the border to Norway, with views over fiords, snow-clad mountains, tiny villages with red and white cottages and snowy valleys. After about two hours ride from Abisko, we arrived Narvik, where the city was pretty much closed down, being Sunday. We strolled around for a bit before catching the Flybussen airport bus for a 1,5 hour trip to Evenäs Airport from where we flew home.
Hadn’t I spent all my annual leave earlier this year, I would’ve liked to stick around for a few more days, possibly to go on some whale watching, another ‘bucket list’ thing I haven’t been able to tick off the list.
Visited the amazingly pretty Greek island of Santorini a couple of weeks ago. While I’ve had plenty of Greek food in Sweden, there’s nothing like having a proper Greek salad with sun-ripe tomatoes, a juicy grilled souvlaki or a fluffy delicious gyros pita while soaking up the views of the deep blue Med, white chalk stone houses and steep cliffs.
For once, we did not have that much of an agenda on Santorini; the plan was pretty much to laze by the pool, read books, watch the view, and of course, eat a lot of tasty Greek food. Below you can find my favourites (in no particular order).
Argo is a sort of fancy restaurant that faces the Caldera in Fira (although the view at some tables is limited. We stopped by our first night without any reservation, but were given a table right away. The food was quite good, especially the tomato keftedes, or fritters made from battered battered local tomatoes. The fava bean dip was nice too with a nice splash of olive oil and warm, fluffy pita breads.
For mains we had a seafood spaghetti and a veal stifado, served with either fries or linguine. We opted for the latter, and hence both had pasta our first night on the island. Sorry Greek food. Oh well, both dishes were good but by no means fantastic. The seafood was well cooked and served in a sweetish “Santorini style” tomato sauce. It was nothing wrong with it, but at €19, I expected to be slightly more wowed. The stifado was quite nice, tender and well-seasoned but could’ve been served with something more inspiring than chips or spaghetti.
All in all though, service was nice, food good and the view nice. But probably stick to the Greekier dishes if you’re a pasta snob like me.
Salt and pepper, Fira (no view)
Salt & Pepper is a nice little restaurant, run by a husband and wife, where the husband works in the kitchen, and the wife service the tables. Service is not very polished, but quite friendly and the food is tasty. I tried their keftedes, Greek meatballs, and they were yum, so was the Greek salad. Save some space for dessert which was complementary.
Of all the places we visited in Santorini, the downright most tasty food was at Lucky’s Souvlaki, a small, quite unimpressive looking venue on the tourist street close to Fira’s bus station. What they do is souvlaki; meaning kebab-style meat skewers; gyros, which is shaved, döner kebab resembling pork or chicken shaved vertically from a rotating spit, and a few other foods, served fast food style, meaning mainly wrapped in fluffy pita bread, slathered in tzatziki and then washed down with a cold mug of Alfa beer. Or two.
Another great benefit was that it was not only the tastiest, but also the most affordable of all the places we visited during our week. A nice little lunch kit with two gyros (pronounced yeeros), fries and a drink was €9,5.
Situated a bit of a drive from central Fira, with stunning views of the non-caldera side of the island, Anemoloos served up some of the best dishes we had during our visit to the island. The restaurant served local dishes, meze style, meaning loads of small platters of extremely delicious food that we shared among the table.
Favourites were the Santorini style Greek salad with capers, grilled pork belly and the grilled sausage. Also deep-fried potatoes with shaved butter was (as you can tell) very delicious.
Price: Since we were part of a tour during our visit, prices were never displayed, but I’m guessing prices were affordable.
Towards the end of our visit, we found the not-so-hidden gem PK (Palia Kameni) Cocktail Bar. The place offers incredible views, incredible sunsets and incredible cocktails. The prices are relatively expensive, but not crazy expensive. To score a nice seat, you can pre-book spots for a €10 (online) or €20 (walk-in) deposit that is then removed from the bill. Cocktails starts at ~€9 and goes up to ~€20. We tried a couple and they were all great.
Aktaion was probably my favourite restaurant in terms of food in Santorini. Unfortunately we showed up without a reservation and only got an hour to eat (totally our fault), they did their very best to accommodate us.
We had their fresh sea bream with baked vegetables and lime sauce; falling-if-the-bone tender slow-baked lamb shank with roasted mizithra cheese, and Ouzo-spiked mussels.
As mentioned the food was great. For once I felt like also trying a dessert, but no time unfortunately.
More than in any other place we visited in Santorini (except for Anemoolos which was similarly great in quality), you could really feel the love in the food at Aktaion. The quality was a notch up compared to the competition.
Very recommended, but make a reservation in advance. And then walk along the edge back to Fíra (there is a footpath all the way), amazing views.
Our last meal was enjoyed at To Ouzeri, very close to the caldera view, but without the view. Food is wholesome and tasty, but not fantastic. We had a spicy feta dip, warm pita breads, Greek salad and soft meatballs in a slightly spicy cumin-scented tomato sauce.
Price was around €40 for two including wine, starters and two mains.